It has been some season for George Horne. Regardless of what happens between Glasgow Warriors and the Scarlets in Friday’s PRO14 play-off semi-final showdown at Scotstoun, the 23-year-old can look back on the last nine months with a huge degree of satisfaction and pride, having grabbed his opportunity to jump from third to first in the scrum-half pecking order at his club with both hands and elbowing his way into contention for a first full Scotland cap in the Americas this summer.
Horne signed his first full professional contract last summer, having lived a fairly peripatetic rugby existence during the previous two years as a level three player in the Scottish Rugby academy set-up, turning out at various times for the Scotland Sevens team on the World Rugby Sevens Series, for London Scottish in the English second-tier Championship and for Glasgow Hawks in the BT Premiership. He did, during that time, manage three appearances off the bench for the Warriors, but with Ali Price and Henry Pyrgos both well established and very much in their prime, it wasn’t a huge surprise when he found himself back turning out for Hawks in the opening weeks of the current campaign.
His big break came during the November Test window when both Price and Pyrgos were required by Scotland. Horne started three games on the bounce against the Southern Kings, Leinster and the Ospreys and scored five tries.
He has now bagged ten tries from 16 appearances in all competitions so far this season, been called up to the full national training squad during the Six Nations, represented Scotland at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast last month, been named both player and young player of the season at the club’s recent awards night, and last week earned selection for Scotland’s summer tour to Canada, USA and Argentina.
“My time with the Scotland Under-20s and London Scottish were all a chance to get better and learn and I think that stood me in good stead for this season. It’s brought me on massively as a player and this year I’ve just kept trying to improve,” says Horne.
“It’s been a great season for the squad so far and personally I’ve played a lot more than I would have thought, so it was a massive, massive honour to be voted player of the year. I’m just looking forward to this next couple of weeks now,” he adds, highlighting that it is not quite yet time for him to sit back and reflect on how well things are going.
A win this Friday will tee up a trip to Dublin to take on either Leinster, the newly-crowned champions of Europe, or Munster. It isn’t going to be easy. The Warriors may have been the runaway table-toppers in Conference A of the PRO14 but their form in recent weeks has been less convincing than we were used to before Christmas, with a 26-8 mauling by the Scarlets at the start of April highlighting just how dangerous Friday’s opposition can be.
There is also a suspicion the Warriors have not yet developed the big-game mentality needed to get the better of the top teams when it really matters, and that theory will be tested in five days’ time against last year’s league champions and this year’s Champions Cup semi-finalists.
As far as Horne is concerned, the key to success will be the team staying true to the principles which have been instilled by the club coaches.
“We get a licence to go out and express ourselves. We’ve got talented game-breakers in our team and you’ve got to let them express themselves and have a go, so we play an expansive style,” he added.